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Minutes before midnight on May 6, a woman called the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
Luis “Ferrari” Jimenez, 28, of McAllen — a drug trafficker with Gulf Cartel connections — had kidnapped her husband and an acquaintance.
“Our victims are also involved with the drug trafficking organization,” said Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra. “They went down and they picked up what we believe is about 750 pounds of marijuana off the river. They brought it to a stash house and then, later on that day, some men came by and stole it. And so that led to the kidnapping.”
The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office spent the past three weeks investigating the case.
“We haven’t seen this in quite a while,” Guerra said, adding that kidnappings remain relatively rare in Hidalgo County.
Drug traffickers frequently demand proof when a shipment is stolen or seized by law enforcement. They occasionally abduct, torture or kill smugglers suspected of stealing from the organization.
During the past few years, though, many drug trafficking organizations switched from marijuana to migrants.
“It’s a lot easier and more profitable, right now, smuggling humans than it is smuggling drugs,” Guerra said.
Key details about the kidnapping, which happened near the intersection of 5 Mile Line and La Homa Road, remain unclear.
Concerned about compromising the investigation, Guerra declined to reveal when, exactly, the kidnapping happened. How long the men remained captive and much of what they told investigators is similarly murky.
The series of events that sparked the kidnapping started on Cinco de Mayo weekend.
Smugglers moved about 750 pounds of marijuana across the Rio Grande south of Pharr, said Guerra, who summarized information provided by investigators. They slipped past U.S. Border Patrol agents and transported the bundles of marijuana to a stash house near Palmview.
Several men apparently robbed the stash house, leaving the smugglers empty-handed.
Members of the drug trafficking organization summoned two smugglers responsible for the marijuana to a meeting. When they arrived, other members of the organization kidnapped them.
“Several armed men with handguns and rifles arrived in three separate vehicles and forced them into the vehicles,” according to an affidavit filed by an investigator.
The kidnappers took both men to Palmview, where they were beaten and interrogated.
While public records identify both men, the Progress Times is withholding their names and other information about them. Publicizing their names could place the men and witnesses related to them in danger.
Investigators identified Jimenez, a 28-year-old McAllen resident nicknamed “Ferrari,” as the ringleader.
“We know that he made one phone call and was able to bring in all these people,” Guerra said.
Deputies tracked down Jimenez just hours after they received a call about the kidnapping, according to court records. They also raided a home near Raul H. Yzaguirre Middle School in San Juan, where deputies found body armor, ballistic helmets, masks and rifle magazines.
The Mission Police Department, the Palmview Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Border Patrol, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provided assistance during the investigation.
Investigators arrested Jimenez; Jose Alfredo “Chivo” Chavez, 21, of Palmview, who also made money by dancing at quinceañeras; Jorge Elias Martinez, 22, of Mission; Rocio Hernandez Barajas, 32, of San Juan, who provided weapons to members of the organization; two 16-year-old boys and a 16-year-old girl.
Charges against them include aggravated kidnapping and engaging in organized criminal activity.
An attorney for Jimenez didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Investigators obtained arrest warrants for Enrique Aguirre Jr., who they believe orchestrated the kidnapping; Oved Alejandro Ponce, Victor Luna and Marco Antonio Elizondo.
“These suspects remain at large and should be considered armed and dangerous,” Guerra said. “We encourage witnesses with any information regarding this case to come forward.”